How Science Constructs Contraceptive Users and Women’s Bodies

Emily Willingham in American Scientist:

2012431342128962-2012-05BrevWillinghamFAChikako Takeshita’s The Global Biopolitics of the IUDtraces the scientific and political history of the intrauterine device (IUD) from the 1960s through today. This birth control device, Takeshita writes in this contribution to The MIT Press’s Inside Technology series, may have been employed to reinforce patriarchal ideals that deny women agency—but even in these cases, women have often converted it into an instrument of individual power, in part because the IUD can allow a woman to keep her birth control method hidden. The device thus has at times been associated with efforts to inflict control on the womb, but women also have used it as a method of exerting control in cultural or personal milieus that otherwise may not allow it. Given the current political climate, a book about how a “simple” piece of plastic both controls women and allows them control is timely.

Social context, Takeshita says, not only influences the design of IUDs themselves and how they are marketed and used, but also shapes the conduct of scientific work about them. She begins with the assumption that any such technology will involve “webs of state and nonstate investments” in the bodies, health, sexuality and reproduction of women. The medical researchers who have developed IUDs, along with the organizations that back them, she argues, grasp these varying interests and have made and marketed IUDs based on prevailing social climate, ultimately centering on the white, middle-class Western woman as a target user.

The IUD—whose mechanism of contraception was long unclear but which appears to work primarily by disrupting processes necessary for successful fertilization or by blocking attachment of fertilized eggs to the uterine wall—is thus also a political device, or, as Takeshita writes, a “politically versatile technology.”

More here.